Lev Grossman: The Magician King (review)

Grossman-MagicianKingUS_thumb[10]Lev Grossman’s novel The Magicians made quite a stir back in 2009 when it was first published with its mix of Harry Potter and Narnia and the way it turned these YA stories into some serious adult fiction. I read it in 2009 and liked it a lot. I’ve had the second book in the series on my shelves for a couple of years and I picked it as one of the books to get me back into reading again.

And that was a smart choice. It was one of the books I read on this year’s summer holiday. I read it over three days. And enjoyed it a lot.

We’re back with Quentin and the other kings and queens of Fillory. Quentin is bored with his job as king of smooth-running Fillory and he is desperate for any kind of adventure. So when it is discovered that the Outer Island doesn’t pay tax to the kingdom, he decides to go on a quest. He readies a ship so it’s just like in the Fillory books, he grew up with, and off he goes. Turns out that what he’s really questing for, is a set of keys – and that Fillory’s future is heavily depending on him getting the keys. Only trouble is, that if you use the keys, you risk ending up somewhere you didn’t exactly plan to go.

What we also get in this story, is the story of Julia. One of my comments to the first novel was, that I felt that Julia flickered in and out of it and that her character wasn’t presented in  a satisfying way because of this. This issue is fixed in this novel. We get Julia’s backstory in probably even more gory details that we knew we wanted! Julia wasn’t accepted to the magical school of Brakebills so she had to find her own way to magical learning. A way that wasn’t exactly paved with flowers.

Just like a lot of fantasy novels play with the tropes of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and like J.K. Rowling played with the tropes of British boarding schools, Grossman builds on what was started by C.S. Lewis in the Narnia novels with a nice dose of Harry Potter added to it.  But this in itself isn’t interesting. What is interesting, is Grossman’s way of taking this inspiration and not only making it completely his own but also making it more sinister – and definitely for adults only. And I like that. I like that even though this on the surface is a nice world from a children’s stories, you really can’t trust that we get any happy ending.

What I also like about these novels is, that Grossman is a guy only a bit older than me. This means that he has grown up with a lot of the same culture as me and this means that we have references to modern pop culture like Die Hard and a ‘We were on a break’-moment. As well as a shoot-out to Nicolas Tesla – all of which I really enjoyed.

More than anything this is a book about finding a sense of meaning and purpose for your life. From Julia who wants to learn magic and has to fight for what she knows will give her life meaning to Quentin who has everything he seemingly ever wanted but still isn’t satisfied and goes looking for adventure at the far end of the world.

I really enjoyed going with him – and Julia’s character is fascinating and her storyline is so interesting. This book ended with a bang – it was a very brave ending and I can’t wait to move on to the next novel.

First line: Quentin rode a gray horse with white socks named Dauntless.

  • Title: The Magician King
  • Author: Lev Grossman
  • Publisher: Plume
  • Year: 2011
  • Pages: 541 pages
  • Source: Own collection
  • Stars: 4 stars out of 5

Top Ten Series I Haven’t Finished

So yeah, I like series. I mostly read fantasy series and I love diving into a completely different world and explore it through multiple books. It all began with the DragonLance shared world series. I fell in love with both the world and fantasy while reading Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weiss’ books.

As usual, the Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. And did I mention this is the fifth week in a row I’m participating in Top Ten Tuesday. And there are a lot of us, check out The Broke and the Bookish blog to see the links to the other participant’s blogs.

So most of these series are fantasy series – but there are other series I enjoy as well. Here’s my top 10 – with a bonus at the end.

  1. Adrian Tchaikovsky: Shadows of the Apt. A wonderful refreshing fantasy series set in a world with insect kinden. The praying mantis are assassins, the beetles are hardworking people, the mosquitos are vampires etc. It’s the usual story – band of unlikely heroes goes against the big bad. But the insect kinden makes all the difference and makes it interesting. I’ve read the first four in this series of ten and enjoyed them all.
  2. Robert Jordan: Wheel of Time. Sighs. Every fantasy reader knows this series. And I think everyone agrees that it’s way longer than it had to be. I’ve read the first four and they are not great. They are okay but I have my issues with them – especially because Jordan repeats himself. Every time a character appears, he looks at his character description and says ‘oh yes, the girl with the braids’ or whatever and then he writes that. Every single time. I can’t really say why I keep reading them but I do. I plan on finishing the series – as far as I can tell the last books in the series, the ones not written by Jordan, actually get better…
  3. Diana Gabaldon: Outlander. A woman accidentally stumbles upon an opening to the past in Scotland, goes back and has great adventures and falls in love. I’ve read the first two and really need to get more of these. I sort of tend to forget how great this series is but it is actually really good and I enjoy reading them.
  4. Carlos Ruiz Zafón: The Cemetery of Forgotten Books. Just the name of this series is amazing. I’ve read the first of the trilogy and it was a very very good book. I want to read it again and then read the rest of the trilogy in succession. Luckily, I own all three.
  5. Lev Grossman: The Magicians. Harry Potter, Narnia… This is kind of a mix-up between the two. I liked the first and I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. I have the second one, the third has not yet been published.
  6. Anne Rice: The Vampire Chronicles. So everyone knows Lestat and Interview with the Vampire. And that’s what I know too. I’ve read that one and seen the movie. And then I didn’t get any further. I have The Vampire Lestat and I also have Pandora and Vittorio, the Vampire of the New Tales of the Vampires series. I enjoyed Interview with the Vampire and I want to read further into the series and see what I think.
  7. Jean M. Auel: Earth’s Children. I loved these books. The first one, The Clan of the Cavebear, was so good. And the next two installments in the series were really great too. But the fourth one … The Plains of Passage was just so bad. It just went on and on and on – walking across the plains, detailing the plants, various tribes, sex scenes … But it was clearly just meant to get Ayla and Jondalar from A to B – and it was boring. Still, both Jean M. Auel and I took a break after that and I have the two last books in the series waiting on my shelves and I plan to read them later this year, actually. Hopefully, they will be as good as the first three books!
  8. Gail Carriger: The Parasol Protectorate. I really like this series. It’s steampunk, it’s vampires and werewolves and it’s a a fun, light and very enjoyable read. I only need to read the last one in the series, Timeless. Luckily, Gail Carriger has more books coming out, also set in this world.
  9. Jasper Fforde: Thursday Next. I read the first of these, The Eyre Affair, and I loved it. It was an amazing romp through Jane Eyre and it was so, so good. However, one of the things that made it so good was that I had already read Jane Eyre. So I decided that I wouldn’t read more of this series before I had read more of the classics, Fforde uses in his plots. And that’s what I’m sort of working on. I do look forward to reading the rest of this series!
  10. Various authors: DragonLance. This is series of books based in a shared world. This means that a lot of different authors write these novels and editors are then making sure that chronology and everything else is correct. Or at least supposed to. This shared world concept unfortunately means that not all these novels are of the same quality. I don’t think I’m ever going to read the entire series but I am going to go back and read the main novels and my other favorites from the series again.

And as a bonus, some series I haven’t started but which I’m definitely going to read.

  1. Patrick Rothfuss: The Kingkiller Chronicle. I own the two of these which has been published so far and I expect so much from them. And they look gorgeous!
  2. George R.R. Martin: A Song of Ice and Fire. I’ve seen a few of the tv series episodes and I think that at the right moment, I will just love these. I don’t own any of them yet but I will!
  3. Robin Hobb: The Farseer Trilogy. My best friend Henrik told me years ago that he thought I would love this if I could stomach it. I think these will be so good – if I don’t ruin them by tears…!
  4. Deborah Harkness: All Souls Trilogy. I own the first of these and I think it’s going to be a really great read although I have read both good and bad reviews of it.